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Who is the boss here...me or my car?

This recent road trip of a thousand or so miles has proven beyond any doubt that I have finally lived long enough to have become enslaved to a machine.

I have a new car, which has the latest car safety software. It has a big picture tube in the middle of the car's dashboard. Ah, yes, a picture tube. I remember when televisions were ranked for popularity by the size of their screen, which we called picture tubes for some antique reason.

Only dashboards are not dashboards anymore. Webster's defines dashboards being made of wood or leather to keep the horses' hooves from throwing mud and horse stuff in your face. Well, anyway, whenever I put this new-fangled machine in reverse, my picture tube has marked out for me green and red squares exactly where I should and shouldn't go. There's a problem here with this particular bit of bossiness: How am I supposed to look at the picture tube when I'm turned around looking back where I'm backing? After fifty-plus years of turning around? The only way the engineers could have fixed this for me would have been to put the picture tube back behind my head, because the truth is it's going to take me fifty more years to remember that my machine doesn't want me to look back there.

In fifty-plus more years, will our necks still rotate?

My car-machine does other bossy stuff. Still assuming as it does that I don't have a neck, it will beep at me if I'm backing out of a parking spot and there's traffic coming or going. That's a pretty good deal. You cannot see traffic anymore because as soon as you park a reasonably sized car, a four-wheel-drive truck with a topper pulls in on one side, and a mountainous SUV pulls in on the other. From inside this canyon, you're blind. Bossiness be darned, I like this trick that it does.

My car machine, a phrase which is no longer true, because it appears that the machine thinks I am his, or hers, and not the other way around, has other petty little ways of reminding me that it is superior to me. For example, if I get too close to either the left center line or the right white line, it will beep at me. Machine-beeps are their spoken words. Some are nicer than others. For example, one of the nastiest beep-words are those emitted by alarm clocks, a bunch of machines that are way past passive-aggressive. Their urgent braying says nasty stuff to you about you being lazy, being sluggish, about being contrary to their wishes.

There are nice beeps, too. One of the nicest beeps I've heard came from a friend of mine, who has a machine inside his chest called a pacemaker. (Now there's an example of a machine with no heart.) One day we're sitting together drinking tea and BS-ing when this sweet little beep-beep in two dulcet tones ever-so-politely sounded. After looking around the room, we finally figured out it was his chest making this sound. It turned out to be the pacemaker's low battery alert. One might think a four-alarm-fire tone might be in order here, but apparently the engineers decided that such a tone might cause a panic in the already heart-compromised patient. Be gentle, they figured.

In my new car, when I get too close to the lines, my machine's beeps are quite urgent. HEY! Dummy! Steer the car!

But The-Machine-My-Car really takes charge when I hit the little button that kicks in the lane-keeping mode. Now if I get too close to any line, left or right, it wiggles the steering wheel at me in a fashion best described as a HEYYOULUDDITEPAYATTENTION!!!!!

It even knows if I fall asleep. I guess if you don't move the steering wheel for some interval of time, it can tell this. Then all hell breaks loose. Lights flash. Steering wheel shakes. Car starts to slow down. My dad used to talk about being young and going to town in a horse and buggy. After drinking too much, you never had to worry about driving home. The horse knew the way, and even a horse won't run into another horse.

Within ten years, we'll all have cars that will know the way home, just like those horses. Dad would have gotten a kick out of all this.

I have to go. My picture tube says I have a text message coming in, which it will ask me if I want her to read it to me. Smart aleck.

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